Statistics show that close to 40,000 people die in car accidents each and every year in the US, with hundreds of thousands more being injured. A lot of attention is placed on the physical injuries endured by car crash victims, such as broken or fractured bones, cuts, and bruises, but it’s also important to acknowledge that a lot of people involved in car accidents struggle with mental issues as a result as well.
The pain and suffering caused by car accidents can involve a wide range of forms of mental anguish, with issues like PTSD and persistent anxiety being common in car crash survivors. Even relatively minor incidents that lead to a few physical problems can have serious effects on people beneath the surface.
This guide will look at some common mental health issues experienced by car crash victims, as well as ways to cope with them.
The mental health consequences of car accidents
While car accidents can lead to instant fatalities and a wide range of physical injuries that should not be underestimated, it’s also important to not overlook the mental problems that can occur in the wake of an accident. These issues may not be visible immediately, often taking some time to appear, but can severely damage the lives of those who experience them.
There are three main mental health problems faced by accident survivors: PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
The specific causes, symptoms, and effects of these issues can vary from one person to the next. They may lead to the person being unable to continue driving due to a fear of getting back out on the roads, or they could lead to all kinds of indirect side effects like the breakdown of a relationship or even the loss of a job due to excessive stress or anxiety.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. PTSD. While posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with members of the military and those who have experienced severe abuse or assault, motor vehicle accidents are actually the leading cause of PTSD in the US and elsewhere around the world in the general public, with some studies showing that close to 40% of accident survivors suffer from PTSD.
PTSD can manifest itself in various ways, most often involving the patient repeatedly reliving the incident that led to their PTSD. They may become more paranoid or stressed out in general, avoiding driving and avoiding the place where the accident occurred. This can have various additional effects, like anger management problems, isolation, and breakdown of relationships.
- Dealing with PTSD. In the worst cases, PTSD can even lead to suicidal thoughts and actions, which is why it’s so important to act fast, and luckily, there are a variety of treatment options available for PTSD sufferers, including cognitive processing therapy and reprocessing therapy. These forms of therapy can help you overcome the emotional and mental distress caused by your accident and gradually recover a sense of balance in your life. There are also some medications out there that can help you handle PTSD symptoms like high-stress levels and paranoia, but it’s essential to seek out help from certified professionals, rather than trying to deal with PTSD alone.
2. Anxiety. Lots of people experience anxiety after a car accident. It’s only natural for you to feel stressed and anxious after experiencing something so traumatic, and you may not necessarily need to worry about any serious mental health issues if you simply feel a bit anxious for the days or weeks after a crash. However, if that anxiety continues for longer and begins to affect your life in other ways, you may need to seek help or treatment.
Persistent, severe anxiety can lead to all kinds of additional problems. You may experience panic attacks or extreme bouts of stress at seemingly random moments. You may start to have headaches or dizziness, or you could develop a phobia of driving or even getting into a car, that could affect your life in a range of ways. You may also find it harder to sleep or enjoy life in general.
- Dealing with anxiety. Given that anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in the US today, the first thing to know if you’re experiencing anxiety is that you’re not alone. It’s very common for people who have been in car accidents and other stressful experiences to feel anxious and develop fears or stresses in the weeks and months that follow. Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with anxiety, ranging from medications that can lower your stress levels and help you feel calmer to lifestyle changes like taking up yoga or meditation. You can also seek professional therapy or counselling to overcome fears and anxieties linked with an accident.
3. Depression Statistics show that over 7% of Americans experience at least one major depressive episode per year, and the odds of this increase if you’re involved in a car accident. The incident can shake your confidence, generate new fears and anxieties, leading to major changes in your life, and all of these changes can cause depression quite easily.
Depression is commonly exhibited in the form of depressed moods, lack of interest in regular activities, sleep issues, loss of appetite, lack of self-esteem, lower concentration levels, and other symptoms too. It can cause relationship issues, struggles at work, and even lead to suicidal thoughts in the worst cases.
- Dealing with depression As with anxiety, there are many ways to deal with depression, and the first and most obvious option is to speak with a mental health professional who can offer therapy, guidance, and counselling. Psychologists and psychiatrists can assist you greatly, with the latter being able to prescribe antidepressants to help with your moods. There are also various natural methods you can try to battle depression, such as spending more time with friends and family, communicating with loved ones, adjusting your diet, getting more regular exercise, and adding structure to your days with schedules and routines.
Clearly, car accidents can cause much more than broken bones and bruises; they can lead to debilitating mental health disorders that ruin lives. The key to dealing with issues is getting the help you need and not underestimating the severity of any anxieties or fears you may be feeling. Follow this guide and get the help you need to tackle mental health issues before they get worse.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.